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One fifth of Europe's birds are facing the threat of extinction

Last modified: 03 June 2015

Eider at sea

The eider duck is one 37 familiar UK birds which are facing an uncertain future in Europe

Image: Isle of Man birding

A new assessment of European birds has revealed that nearly one fifth (18 per cent) are considered to be at risk of extinction across the European Union with habitat loss, climate change and increasingly intensive farming being key causes of threat. 

This list of threatened species includes 37 birds, including lapwing, puffin and curlew, which occur regularly in the UK.

After three years of work, a consortium led by BirdLife International and financed by the European Commission has published the new European Red List of Birds. 

The RSPB, the UK partner of BirdLife International, believes the publication will set the base for European conservation and policy work to be done in the coming years. The Red List, that follows the IUCN methodology, is widely recognised as the most authoritative and objective system for assessing the extinction risk of species.

The European Red List of Birds assesses birds across two geographical levels: the European Union (except Croatia); and the wider continent of Europe (stretching from Greenland eastwards across Europe to Turkey and European Russia).

Martin Harper is the RSPB’s Conservation Director. Commenting on the publication of the new European bird assessments, he said: 'These red list assessments provide another red warning that nature across Europe is in trouble. 

'It would have been unthinkable 20 years ago that birds like lapwing and curlew would be threatened species in Europe – the status of many species is deteriorating across Europe. However, conservation action across Europe, guided by the Birds Directive is helping species like the stone-curlew, Dalmatian pelican, avocet and crane.'

Key findings:            

  • Birds in the UK: Of 246 regularly-occurring birds in the UK, 37 species have been assessed as at risk of extinction in the European Union. The Balearic shearwater, a regular seabird visitor from the Mediterranean to UK shores, is listed as Critically Endangered: the highest category of threat. Other species such as the black-tailed godwit, eider, Arctic skua and kittiwake are listed as Endangered: the second highest category of threat
  • Birds in the European Union (EU27): 18 per cent of the 451 species assessed across the EU27 are threatened. Of the 82 species: 11 are Critically Endangered; 16 Endangered and 55 Vulnerable
  • Birds across the wider continent of Europe: 67 (13 per cent) of the 533 species assessed are threatened across the wider continent of Europe. Ten species are Critically Endangered (the highest threat level) including sociable lapwing, yellow-breasted bunting, and slender-billed curlew. The study also found that 18 species are Endangered and an additional 39 Vulnerable
  • Still in trouble: The conservation status of some species that were identified as being in trouble a decade ago haven’t improved. This list includes: Egyptian vulture, aquatic warbler, greater spotted eagle and little bustard
  • Improving: a total of 20 species were previously considered regionally threatened and are now classified as Least Concern in Europe. These include some charismatic species, such as Dalmatian pelican, ferruginous duck, stone-curlew, black kite, lesser kestrel, black-throated diver and great bustard. Another 25 species are still threatened in Europe, but now have a lower extinction risk than a decade ago, and have seen their threat level downlisted. For example, Zino’s petrel and Azores bullfinch, both previously considered to be Critically Endangered, are now classified as Endangered.

Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Policy, said: 'These reports contain some worrying statistics – but they also show the value of well-targeted actions to protect the biodiversity we depend on both economically and socially through the services they provide. 

'Our task is to find ways of building on those successes, and spreading them to other areas. They are also a valuable input to our on-going Fitness Check – Europe needs nature legislation that is fit for purpose.'

Christina Ieronymidou, the European Species Programme Officer at BirdLife, said: 'The European Red List tells us that we have done a decent job at rescuing the rarest species by protecting their last strongholds and taking actions such as eradication of invasive species and insulation of killer powerlines. But we are now faced with much bigger challenges, from the ecological degradation of our farmland to climate change. These problems require a much broader and deeper response.'

Ivan Ramirez, is the head of conservation at BirdLife Europe and Central Asia. He said: 'The new European Red List is a call to arms for the conservation of our natural world. It is inspiring to see that many species targeted by conservation efforts, and supported by key tools such as the Birds Directive and the LIFE programme, are recovering. Yet it is shocking to see many species that used to be common and are now listed as threatened.'

Craig Hilton-Taylor, Head of the Red List Unit, IUCN Global Species Programme, said: 'The Red List data provides a solid baseline for monitoring future trends in European biodiversity and for guiding conservation actions. The European Red List of Birds clearly shows the need for constant vigilance and increased action if we are to prevent the loss of biodiversity in Europe.'

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